hile the crowd bustled during a recent opening at Manifest Gallery, many people ventured into a quiet corner of the first floor. Those who did enjoyed a real treat. Down a narrow, freshly whitewashed hallway, they saw a tableaux of objects arranged on the floor in a brightly lit room. On the checkered linoleum a can of coffee spilled into a pile, its rich aroma still hanging in the air. Two green rubber gloves lay as if just cast off. And on the nearby wall an in-progress painting recreated the scene. Tyler Wilkinson, Manifest Gallery’s first artist-in-residence, created the still-life, and visitors had the rare opportunity to talk with the artist about his work in his studio.
Manifest has grown exponentially since its inception in 2004. What began as a two-room gallery in Walnut Hills has expanded into the entire first floor of Woodburn Avenue’s Victoria Building. The organization now includes an expansive drawing center in Madisonville and a press that publishes three art annuals and catalogues for every exhibition.
Manifest’s latest addition is the Manifest Artist Residency. Annually, beginning in July each year, Manifest will host a working artist in the studio facility inside the gallery building. For one year, the artist receives a rent-free, 500-square-foot studio space with coveted north light and a hallway to exhibit work, complimentary access to all of Manifest’s open figure drawing sessions, the possibility of teaching paid workshops and, maybe most importantly, continuous access to a supportive community of artists. In exchange, the resident artist agrees to open his or her studio during Manifest’s opening receptions. It’s a pretty sweet deal, already recognized as a terrific competitive opportunity in its infancy.
Twenty-eight artists applied for the first residency. This might seem like a small number, but applicants hailed from 16 states including Alaska and Texas, as well as from Japan, Puerto Rico and England, and more are expected to apply as word spreads. It’s exciting to realize that artists from all over the world are competing to spend a year in Cincinnati to make art.
Wilkinson, a Stanford, Ky., native, is a terrific fit for a residency with a public interaction component. He’s open and eager to talk about his work. “It is a very cool thing to invite people inside the studio of an artist, a place that is for the most part hidden from the eyes of the public,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed people’s reactions to the space and the work within. It’s been a pleasure to discuss my process and thoughts on painting and to hear the thoughts of others. I like to think I am sharing my happiness with them. How cool is that?”
Part of the mission of Manifest’s residency program is to demystify the artmaking process, parting the curtain for people to enter a rarely seen space. Those who frequently attend Manifest’s openings will always see something new. During the first opening of the season, soon after Wilkinson moved into the studio, the artist was working on one painting in a mostly empty room. Now, less than two months later, more paintings are popping up. One wall is covered with astounding figure drawings and pastels, other walls with reproductions of works by his favorite artists, inspirational quotes and even a list of Jazz musicians. It truly is a glimpse into an artist’s mind.
Being selected as Manifest’s artist-in-residence came at a perfect time for Wilkinson, who just this past May finished a bachelor of fine arts degree at Centre College in Danville, Ky. It can be difficult for a young artist to stay focused once thrust out into the world after college, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Wilkinson. “I am totally obsessed with painting,” he admits. “I think about it day and night.”
With his studio’s proximity to the galleries at Manifest, he’s constantly surrounded by art. “So much can be gleaned by studying the work of those around you,” he says. “I have found myself challenged technically and conceptually in ways that directly influence the way I think about my craft.”
This regular access to works by artists from around the nation and the world is a huge influence on Wilkinson. “Works of art are the physical manifestations of the time that was spent creating them,” he says. “Within them lies a multitude of decisions. I believe these decisions can be accessed and used as ammunition toward the creation of my own work. I like to think of this as a conversation, a conversation from one artist, through their work, to another. How lucky am I to be in contact with the ever-changing diverse works that make up Manifest’s exhibitions? What a resource.”
Wilkinson sites Manifest’s figure drawing sessions as the biggest perk of his residency. “During the drawing sessions, I work alongside a group of creative, hardworking individuals. While the skill level ranges from novice to professional, the passion for drawing remains constant. It is inspiring and has become something I look forward to with much anticipation week after week.”
Already a skilled draftsman, Wilkinson utilizes the figure in his work, which finds its roots in observation from life. However, this is not a requirement for resident artists, who may work in any traditional or non-traditional genre or media. Applicants are, however, asked how they will benefit from Manifest’s resources, including the life drawing sessions, even if drawing from life is ancillary to their primary work.
In a short time, Wilkinson has already become an integral member of the community of artists involved with Manifest, and he speaks fondly of them. “The experience has been profoundly inspiring,” he says. “They have become close friends and mentors. We feed off each other, challenging and exploring. I have found them to be an impassioned group of individuals united by the love of art.”
Manifest is already accepting applications for the 2013-2014 residency. Guidelines are available at manifestgallery.org.
MANIFEST GALLERY is located at 2727 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-861-3638,